Originally Published: May 2, 2010 11:27 p.m.
Members of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University flight line shared their love of flying with some very special children recently.
Two instructor pilots and two students participated in Challenge Air, a national organization that gives disabled children the opportunity to take a plane ride.
After learning about Challenge Air through "Girls with Wings," pilot and grad student Kristine Anthony volunteered to help as a member of the ground crew. She soon recruited instructional pilots James Howery and Sol Ka'awaloa to join the fun.
The ERAU team took a Cessna 172 plane from the ERAU training fleet for the Challenge Air Fly Day.
Howery said the team flew eight children - seven with their guardians and two that rode together.
"It was very rewarding. The kids liked it. They enjoyed pointing out all the landmarks, especially all the swimming pools in Phoenix," Howery said. "They had a great time."
Anthony said the airplane rides were free to the children and their guardians. In addition to plane rides, the children could participate in flight-related activities while on the ground.
While Howery and Ka'awaloa were taking children up into the air, Anthony and senior aeronautical engineering student Robert Parrish were helping the children get ready for their flights and escorting them to and from the aircraft.
The children were not just idle passengers. Howery said the plane has dual controls and the children "got to take the controls. I would definitely do this again. It was a positive experience for the kids and they were able to share it with their guardians."
The ERAU flight department covered the costs of participating in Challenge Air. Howery said the pilots put about 6.4 hours on the aircraft, at a cost of about $110 to $115 per hour. The pilots also used about 30 gallons of fuel at a cost of $5 per gallon.
"There was a wide variety of aircraft - some similar to ours, homemade planes and even helicopters," Howery said.
During the second Challenge Air in Phoenix, 22 pilots gave rides to about 147 children.
"For some of the kids, the best part was seeing the ground from the air. For others, it was having people understand they had ridden in a plane and it was something they wanted to do," Howery said. "We are definitely doing it again next year."
Former U.S. Navy fighter pilot Rick Amber founded Challenge Air with the belief that "every disabled person should see the world from a different view ... out of wheelchairs and crutches and from the sky."
Amber lost the use of his legs when his jet crashed during a landing attempt on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock. He was returning from his 109th combat mission over Vietnam. He was 26 years old.
After the end of his military career, Amber returned to school and earned a master's degree in environmental science and a bachelor of fine arts degree.
It was while he was continuing his education that Amber rekindled his love of flying. While teaching math and science in Dallas, Texas, he designed a curriculum for an aviation class.
He began teaching ground school in the evening in exchange for the flying hours he needed to earn his FAA certification.
In 1993, Amber bought a Cessna 177B Cardinal and Challenge Air was born. He combined his love of flying and love of children to fly more than 3,500 special needs children who came to events during the following few years.